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Only 25 days of diesel fuel left! What’s really going on?

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The dire news of only 25 days of diesel fuel left in the U.S. certainly grabbed everyone’s attention recently, but what is really going on? Is there any truth to this news?

A recent U.S. Energy Information Administration report showed only 25 days of diesel fuel supply for the U.S. market sent news pundits abuzz declaring a massive emergency is right at our door steps and throwing blame on everyone they don’t agree with politically. 

Specifically, a news segment by Tucker Carlson of Fox News blew this out in the open and tried to amplify the doom-and-gloom messaging.

The issue: The premise of the discussion is, well, completely false.

What’s the truth on only 25 days of diesel fuel?

Let’s get this out of the way first: The statistic of 25 days of diesel fuel left is true. However, the way it is being interpreted is completely false. 

The days of supply is simply another way of showing supply versus demand. It isn’t meant to say refineries will stop making diesel fuel and we will run out in 25 days. 

Instead, it is showing how much demand there is for diesel fuel, and you have to look at it in perspective. 

For example, a story from TruckingInfo.com, states the average daily supply of diesel fuel is on average 33 days. This means we are only off by a few days of our average supply.

Now, that doesn’t mean the lack of diesel supply isn’t a big deal. This is the lowest level of diesel supply since 2014, and there likely will be some regions that will run out of diesel for a day or two.

Why are we running low on diesel fuel?

There are many reasons why we are running low on diesel fuel, and frankly, they are all reasonable.

As Tom Kloza of the Oil Price Information Service told CNBC: “October had the most refinery maintenance in the United States probably in a number of years.”

Additionally, because U.S. refinery capacity fell over the past few years thanks to the world-wide pandemic, many of those refineries haven’t opened up again — and some never will. 

“I think the fact that we’ve got this warning signal at the end of October and beginning of November helps,” Kloza told CNBC. “There’s tremendous profit motive out there to get refineries back up and running.”

We also can’t discount the Ukraine war, which has seen many countries, including the U.S., cut off imports of Russian oil. The U.S. was importing nearly 700,000 barrels a day of petroleum and petroleum products.

Finally, seasonal fluctuations, like the coming winter in the North East, cause changes in supply. They use heating oil, which is similar to diesel fuel, to warm their homes.

“Once you get to December and January, there’s really no difference between the molecules in heating oil and diesel, and then you might be sending a bunch of diesel to be burned up in the chimneys of homeowners in New England,” Kolza said.

When will diesel fuel prices drop?

Right now, diesel fuel is anywhere from $1 to $2 more a gallon than gasoline. This is rather odd since diesel fuel is an unrefined fuel, which theoretically makes it cheaper to produce. In fact, historically it has cost less than gas.

So, when then will diesel prices go back to being cheaper to gas? Basically, when the above factors change. 

It’s a matter of supply and demand and, well, profit. Like Kolza said, now that there is profit to be had, the oil companies will re-open refineries, and people will get back to work.

Traders are also seeing the demand spike for the U.S. East Coast and are starting to divert oil tankers from Europe to the U.S., according to a Reuters.com story. 

This influx of 90,000 tons of diesel and jet fuel should help ease some concerns of running out of fuel.

The bottom line

Sensational headlines win out these days in a world where people simply don’t read past the headline. Are there some real concerns about future oil production? You bet. However, that’s a debate for another time. For now, let’s all take a breath. The North East isn’t going to run out of fuel to heat their homes, and diesel fuel supply will rebound as the supply chain ramps back up.

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Tim Esterdahl

Automotive Journalist Tim Esterdahl has been a lover of trucks and SUVs for years. He has covered the industry since 2011 and has pieces in many national magazines and newspapers. In his spare time, he is often found tinkering on his '62 C10 pickup, playing golf, going hunting and hanging out with his wife and kids in Nebraska.

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